Thriller

Taken 3 (2015)

Liam Neeson is back as Bryan Mills in Taken 3 – infuriatingly written as Tak3n in some quarters – the second sequel to the surprise hit of 2008. The last entry, Taken 2, followed the idiom of it’s not broke, don’t fix it and essentially became a retread of the first albeit with more daughter, more Famke Janssen and added orienteering with grenades.

This time around Taken 3 turns out to actually be a large misnomer, with no one being taken, swiped, pilfered, shanghaied, kidnapped, shoplifted, disappeared or hijacked. Instead, our Irish hero finds himself on the run from the police when he is set up for the murder of his ex-wife (Famke Janssen in what is fair to say a small cameo). With his ex’s husband from the last two films – now being played by a sleazy Dougray Scott – pointing the finger of blame squarely at him, Bryan must find out who set him up and why. Hot on his heels is Inspector Dozler, played by Forest Whittaker, potentially the slowest detective to hit our screens since Inspector Clouseau.

Whilst the first two films had enough going for them to at least be recommendable to others, Taken 3 is by far one of the laziest sequels we’ve seen since The Hangover Part 3. Breaking from the formula to use a script that was very likely doing the rounds under another name, it suffers greatly from the plot, to the set pieces, to the huge gaping plot holes, to the overall performances of everyone involved. Throw in some retconning of the highest order and a distinct lack of actual action until gone the hour mark, and you are looking at poor night at the cinema, irony be damned.

The audience deserves better, but evidently no one making Taken 3 feels the same way. Here’s hoping T4ken is a long way away.

Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015)

After Kick Ass, Matthew Vaughn returns to the material of l’enfant terrible, Mark Millar with Kingsman: The Secret Service, loosely based on Millar’s comic book The Secret Service.

Taron Egerton plays Eggsy, a London kid from the wrong of the tracks who is taken under the wing of Colin Firth’s Harry Hart, a gentlemen spy for a secret service known as Kingsman who set up shop, literally, on Saville Row. Whilst Eggsy tackles his spy training head on, internet tycoon Richmond Valentine (a lisping Samuel L Jackson) is traversing the globe looking for the rich and powerful to join his solution for global warming. Spoilers: he’s up to no good. Can Eggsy and Hart stop him before it’s too late?

Based on a script co-written with his usual collaborator Jane Goodman, Vaughn’s Kingsman is an explosive and blackly humorous response to the po-faced spy thrillers such as the Bourne Trilogy (there is no fourth) and Daniel Craig’s Bond. It’s also spectacularly violent, with a key scene set in a Westboro Baptist type church being the most gloriously vulgar and memorable. Anyone raising an eyebrow at Colin Firth being in an action film will be pleasantly surprised as he fights his way through a scene that feels like both The Raid movies compressed down to five minutes.

Whilst the film never lets up, there are some missteps. Kingsman was clearly filmed in the UK, and its apparent in many a scene that steps foot outside the British Isles. Admittedly not the crime of the century, but it does take you out of the film. There’s also a crude joke towards tot eh end that attempts to heighten and satirize the typical conjugal rights ending to a Bond movie, but instead rewrites Eggsy character unnecessarily.

However, these are minor quibbles in a film that for the most part is a blistering, balls to the wall comic book adaptation.

Nightcrawler (2014)

‘There’s something of the night about him,’ a phrase once synonymous with a certain member of the British Government and which can easily be applied to Lou Bloom, the nervy, boggle eyed sociopath in Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler. Bloom, in a brilliant performance by Jake Gyllenhaal, is a gurning loner, who we first meet trying to steal wire fencing from the side of a train line. He awakes at the crack of dawn to find new job opportunities that will allow him to utilize the self-improvement/managerial patois he distills from online courses.

Becoming an eyewitness to a police rescue introduces Bloom to the world of nightcrawling, wherein amateur camera crews peddle their newsworthy footage of crime scenes to the highest bidder. With the success of some bloody footage, Bloom manages to get his feet under the table at the local news studio and sets his sights on its morning news director, Nina (Rene Russo) Seemingly comfortable to sell to only one station, Bloom evolves into an overconfident cameraman, who values the importance of getting the right shot, regardless of the methods used to obtain it.

Gyllenhaal is on fire as Bloom, managing to straddle that line between deeply unlikeable and utterly pitiful. His overwrought monologues are a particular highlight. Witness him as he spits out his verbal diarrhea to Rick, his put upon ‘intern’ played brilliant by Riz Ahmed. To Bloom, they’re passages of gold that enrapture his audience. To everyone else, they’re fluctuate between boring and deeply violent.

Nightcrawler is a beast of a film, which latches onto the jugular. Gilroy has crafted a stunning piece of work that, like Bloom himself, fascinates and unnerves in equal measure. Put simply: You need to see this film.

Felony (2013)

Written by Joel Edgerton (The Great Gatsby), Felony is a gritty Australian thriller that dissects the ideas of morals and honour amongst thieves. Or in this case, honour amongst the boys in blue.

Mal Toohey, played by Edgerton, is a hardworking detective with a decent future ahead for him and his family. After a successful raid and a near miss with a bullet, Toohey and his colleagues blow off steam at the local watering hole. From this point on, Toohey makes a mistake that will scar his life immeasurably. He decides to drink drive home and ends up clipping a young boy out on his bike. When the authorities arrive on the scene, senior detective Carl Summer, played by Tom Wilkinson, takes Mal under his wing and helps fabricate a story that the Mal is in fact a hero. Whilst the boy lies in a coma at hospital, the two men begin to feel the pressure. Mal struggles with his conscience and Carl is harassed by his young by the book partner, Jim Melic (Jai Courtney), who believes Mal’s act of heroism doesn’t add up.

Felony’s dark and stressful themes will certainly stir up emotions in its audience. Its three-way structure and moral ambiguity reminded us instantly of Curt Hanson’s LA Confidential, with each of our three protagonists lying somewhere on the spectrum of corruption. Even the wet behind the ears tests his professionalism when he starts to become attracted to the young boy’s mother, Ankhila Sarduka, played with great emotion by Sarah Roberts.

The performances are superb with Wilkinson standing out the most. Starting off cocksure and a little out of touch with modern society, he expertly portrays a man whose own moral barometer is no longer fit for purpose. Meanwhile, Edgerton moves from one scene to the next riding the clutch on a man ready to collapse under the weight of his own guilt and Courtney manages to maintain his head whilst all those around him lose theirs.

Felony is a mature piece of work that certainly shows Edgerton’s talents in writing. Here’s hoping the film gets the recognition it deserves outside of Australia.

Big Bad Wolves (2013)

Israeli Writing/Directing team, Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado, have provided in this, their second feature, a lavish buffet of dark treats that punctures the concept of machismo and questions whether the punishment can ever suitably fit the crime.

On a bright day in Israel, a Religious Education teacher is kidnapped by two men: one is the father of a recently murdered child and the other a dirty cop looking to solve a spate of similar atrocities. Hidden in the basement of a country cottage and believing themselves to have their man, they devise ways to torture a confession out of their hostage.

The subject matter is bleak, but Big Bad Wolves also manages to be perversely funny. Our torturers take time out from breaking fingers, so one can take a call from their abrasive and interfering mother. This constant switch and bait of the genre could easily derail everything. However, in the hands of Keshales and Paushado, it’s an act of plate spinning that really pays off. The film’s humour sharpens the nastiness before and after rather than providing a welcome reprieve.

Tight scripting, solid performances and a killer ending add up to a film that proves genre filmmaking isn’t limited to the US and Australia.

Oldboy (2013)

Analysing a remake without explicit comparison with an original is hard enough work. In the case of Oldboy (2013) it all gets little more complicated. Whilst we could view it as a new adaptation of Garon Tsuchiya & Nobuaki Minegishi’s original source manga, Spike Lee’s latest joint seems to go out if its way to invite comparisons with Park Chan-wook’s 2003 critical darling. Except it’s not a Spike Lee “joint.” Lee got frustrated with cuts he was apparently forced to make from his original 140 minute feature that he downgraded Oldboy from “joint” to “film.” So here we have a new film, based on the Grand Prix winning favourite of Quentin Tarantino and almost overwhelmingly revered by film fanatics all over, which even its own director isn’t happy with. Signs do not bode well.

For the uninitiated, Oldboy tells the story of city boy Joe Doucett (Josh Brolin), a belligerent drunk who is imprisoned by an unknown entity for 20 years, framed for the murder of his ex-wife and eventually released back into the world obsessed with the idea of revenge. Where ever the supposedly imposed cuts were placed on Oldboy’s content, it was most certainly not on the film’s opening, a dreadfully slow, indulgent and cheap depiction of Joe’s alcoholism. With the subtlety of a battering ram, Brolin sways, stumbles and pukes his way through the city streets before hammily screaming “does anyone have any more alcohol?!” at apartment blocks. His imprisonment arrives after he chases an Asian lady with an umbrella through Chinatown, a motif that is consistently repeated to lead Joe into dangerous situations. It’s probable the filmmakers were trying to tip their hats to the original Korean film, but the overall association of badness with this corner of the city reeks of lazy and unsavoury Orientalism.

But Oldboy’s laziness extends far beyond its treatment of illness and culture. The infamous hammer hallway fight scene from Park Chan-wook’s original is practically copy and pasted, albeit with sickeningly cheesy guitar-led fight music that makes the whole scenario seem like Josh Brolin is levelling up on an awful arcade game. Then there’s the scene where Joe idly stares at a CGI octopus in an Asian restaurant. Brief and unnecessary, it’s very likely all involved thought this wonderfully subversive and clever, but it’s just an aching reminder of the superior version you wish you were watching.

There’s a chance that there is some enjoyment to be had in Oldboy if one has never witnessed how perfectly the story can be presented, as it was ten years ago. But for those familiar with the original there is precisely nothing new introduced, the twist climax limping in like a predictably unwanted guest, an over-acted one at that. Oldboy is completely undone by its lack of personal touch from its auteur director, its poor lead performance, and subtle-as-a-brick storytelling. Like its protagonist’s imprisonment, expect tedium and aggravation.

The Canyons (2013)

Directed by Paul Schrader and written by the perpetually frowning Bret Easton Ellis, The Canyons is a towering monument to the emptiness of Hollywood, as well as a huge fingerwag at the vacuous lifestyles of white rich people.

Probably.

At some point during the writing phase maybe.

Tara (Lindsey Lohan, who was in Mean Girls) and Christian (porn star James Deen, who has been in a lot of mean girls) are the snarkiest couple in the neighbourhood. They sleepwalk through each other’s lives, popping Valium and slurring declarations of love to each other whilst taking part in numerous orgies. If you’ve read any work by Ellis, this will all be familiar territory. When Christian begins to suspect that Tara is sleeping with the lead in his latest film project, he begins to stalk and harass her in the dullest, most poorly acted manner imaginable.

This is not an enjoyable film. Dubbed as an erotic thriller, it has the eroticism of walking in on your grandparents. And presumably the brief flash of violence in the third act must past for thrilling these days in the Schrader household. Lohan’s performance has been praised in  America and whilst we understand why, let us not forget that she’s up against Deen – a man with two facial expressions; his frowny ‘I’m acting’ face and his ‘I feel funny in my rude bits’ face.

Like Ellis’ other work, his characters always have something at hand to say, but no one’s listening. They’re just waiting for their turn to talk.  Unfortunately for The Canyons, the same could be said about its audience. We’re not listening. Everyone, including Gus Van Sant’s psychiatrist, mumbles like words have gone out of fashion. Any dialogue that does bubble to the surface doesn’t cause a blip on the interesting scale. It’s just words. Meaningless words.

If we’re honest, the sole purpose for someone wanting to watch The Canyons will be down to the car crash element. You can’t look away. And if that’s your reasoning, fine, but please note that, like rubbernecking an actual car crash, watching The Canyons will give you a momentary sense of guilty pleasure, maybe even some schadenfreude, before leaving you with a sense of shame and a desire to take a long hard look at your actions.

Early Bird Film Society’s Films O’ 2013!

Good evening and welcome to the EBFS review of the year (in film). Ahhhh…. 2013…. It seems a different, more innocent time. A time when the Academy saw fit to award Argo its highest honour at their annual, low-key shindig, despite their apparent belief that the film just popped into existence from nothing without any help from a director or anything. Cannes dropped to its knees over three hours of emotionally wrought, sapphic love in Blue Is The Warmest Colour, just to prove how stereotypically bloody French they are. Toronto, in a shameless attempt to hold onto it’s spot as “hot Oscar predictor”, hedged its bets and threw The People’s Choice Award at 12 Years a Slave, which is basically cheating. Venice and Berlin foisted their respective golden animal statues at Sacro GRA and Child’s Pose respectively. Two films so art-house and (eurgh) European that they have yet to see a release in either of the countries EBFS wanders around in. However, all of that backpatting, black tie dinnering, gladhanding was just window dressing compared to the (fanfare/family fortunes incorrect answer noise) annual verbal fist fight that has become the Early Bird Film Society’s Collection of Top Five Films And Some Bad Ones Of The Year! The title will be worked on.

Anyway, all four of us here at the global EBFS offices (Melbourne/Manchester Divisions) have picked our top five films that we saw at the cinema in 2013 based on a less than comprehensive release date schedule spanning two countries and poor recollection skills. It’s our list though, so don’t judge us and you’re welcome:

Top Five @DonDubrow

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (2013)

Joss Whedon threw this Shakespeare adaptation together using his house, his wife, his friends and his deft ear for fast, witty dialogue. Delightfully playful, completely faithful and a little breath of fresh air amongst the towering mega franchises.

– DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012)

Tarantino’s best film since Jackie Brown, completely ignoring any political subtext and a more brutal depiction of slavery for that reason. Great performances from Foxx and SLJ but Christophe Waltz’s warmth and DiCaprio’s gleeful evil earned them the plaudits. Extra points for surviving Tarantino’s inexplicable Australian accent which he’ll have to be brought to account for at some point.

ONLY GOD FORGIVES (2013)

Divisive doesn’t even cover it. Nicolas Winding Refn’s desire to “violate” the audience came true with this lurid, neo fable of oedipal urges in Bangkok. Ryan Gosling’s easiest day at the office is a bleak and uncompromising, neon drenched nightmare set within the lowest parts of the human psyche. Maybe.

STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS (2013)

Despite Spock’s presence, this embarrassingly colon free sequel was almost totally bereft of logic. Insane pacing and set pieces (and lens flare) and the worst kept secret of the year still made for a rip-roaring dash through a thousand tropes of the Star Trek universe all coated with JJ Abrams’ clever script reverses and cinema savvy. Best line delivery of the year too. Altogether now….”KHAAAAANNNNN!!”.

SPRING BREAKERS (2012)

Harmony Korine aims for the mainstream and thankfully misses with his visceral tale of hedonism and excess where the youth of America stop trying to be the best they can be and realise they no longer live in a country where anything is possible. Warning, contains James Franco saying “blue Kool-Aid” over and over and singing a Britney Spears song. Not for everyone.

Worst Film

After Earth (2013)

Will Smith “thinks” up an idea where he doesn’t play Will Smith but seventies Robert Duvall, his son convinces us that emoting is hard and M Night Shawaddywaddy directs? Ooh, it took a round of drawing straws to get one of EBFS into the cinema to begin with to gape open mouthed at a film with as much warmth, wit and charm as someone who bangs on a van at a sex trial. If this ruins Will Smith’s career (which it won’t), karmic film balance would at least creep back into the black….

Top 5 @stuartnbaillie

IRON MAN 3 (2013)

The award for best rug pull/slap in the fan boys faces goes to Shane Black’s exceptionally funny take on the superhero. RDJ nails it yet again as Tony Stark but the star of the show was Sir Ben Kingsley’s Mandarin/Trevor Slattery. Brilliant fun from start to finish.

GRAVITY (2013)

Adored by critics and loved by the public. Alfonso Cuaron’s marvelous film may have taken some fantastic scientific leaps in logic (seriously, look into it) but who cares, it was brilliant. Innovative and thoughtful this was on most critics top 5 lists. Ghost Clooney is my hero.

ALAN PARTRIDGE: ALPHA PAPA (2013)

The funniest film I’ve seen in ages. Steve Coogan inhibits a character better than any other actor of his ilk, (take note of how it’s done Mr. Ferrell) and does it to consistently hilarious effect. The lip synch to Roachford’s ‘Cuddly Toy’ and ‘the man fanny’ were two of my highlights. Excellent work from everybody involved.

– CAPTAIN PHILLIPS (2013)

Tom Hanks is as good as he’s been since he made me cry over losing  a chuffing volleyball. Special mention to debutant Barkhad Abdi who held his own against a hollywood legend, his turn as Somali pirate Muse was almost as good as Hanks’ titular hero. Intense,thrilling, fast paced and superbly directed (well-played Paul Greengrass) this was edge of the seat viewing. Worth it for the heartbreaking final scenes.

FROZEN (2013)

I’m a 35 year old man who likes boxing, MMA, rugby, NFL, horror movies and the 80’s back catalogue of ‘The Austrian Oak’ and Sly Stallone and yes….a Disney musical made my top 5. The music in this is as good as anything from the 90’s golden era. I’ll put ‘Let it Go’ up against ‘A Whole New World’ or ‘Be Our Guest’. It’s very funny thanks to a brilliant talking snowman and the message that you don’t need a man to feel loved plays totally against Disney’s apparent ethos.

Loved. Every. Second.

Worst Film

Only God Forgives (2013)

I thought long and ard about this. I nearly gave it to Anchorman 2 but as awful as that was it just didn’t make my blood boil as much as OGF. As beautifully shot and scored as this was it felt deliberately obtuse at times and constantly frustrating. I hate this film with a passion that burns with the fire of a thousand suns.

Top 5 by @noonanjohnc

-MANIAC (2012)

Elijah Wood is a maniac, maniac on the floor and he’s dancing like he’s never danced before. D’oh! He is NOT a maniac, maniac on the floor, dancing like he’s never danced before. He’s the puppy eyed, mumbling owner of a mannequin store, with an oedipal love for his dead mother. Oh and he likes to scalp women. Franck Khalfoun’s remake of the 1981 greasy cult classic, has the morals of American Psycho and the sheen of Drive. Shot from Wood’s POV, the film makes you an unwilling accomplice in his apologetic rampage (‘I won’t hurt you.’ He cries to one of his victims, before doing exactly that). Haunting, vicious and with a superb soundtrack, Maniac will stay with you for a long time. I suggest showering in Swafeger afterwards.

THE KINGS OF SUMMER (2013)

This tale of three lads building a house in the forest to escape their respective parents took me completely by surprise. Equal parts Stand by Me and The Hangover (Seriously), The Kings of Summer is brilliantly shot and hilarious. I’ve watched this several times now and it never fails to cheer me up. Pretty much every highlight includes either Nick Offerman’s grumpy sonuvabich father who continually fights with the local Chinese restaurant or Moises Arias as the alien-esque Biaggio; a boy who mistakes Cystic Fibrosis for being gay.

THE WAY WAY BACK (2013)

Another coming of age film. This time from the writers of The Descendants, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, who also direct. Duncan is a boy forced on a summer break with his mum and her somewhat dominant boyfriend. Whilst trying to find something fun to do, Duncan ends up working at Sam Rockwell’s rundown waterpark. Everyone is on fire in this film. Patriculalty Rockwell who has never been better as the lethargic Lothario with *all together now* a heart of gold.

THE ROCKET (2013)

I’ve got two Aussie films in my top ten. Ivan Sen’s noirish police procedural Mystery Road and this from documentarian Kim Mordaunt. I’ve gone with The Rocket simply because it’s probably the most accessible. A film that is both heartbreaking and joyful, The Rocket tells the story of a young boy just trying to prove his worth to his family when all those around him consider him to be bad look. I’ve told people it’s like a children’s story for grown-ups, and I think it’s the most succinct way I can put it.

GRAVITY (2013)

What can I say that hasn’t already been said on this page. I’m not going to waste your time. If you’ve seen it and loved it, you know why it’s on my list. If you haven’t seen it yet, stop reading and see if you can find a cinema that’s still showing it. I’ll wait.

Worst Film

– I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE 2

I’ve seen a lot of tosh in 2013. Hell, I saw three Dolph Lundgren films alone. However, absolutely none of them, not even Diana, could be considered the worst of 2013 when you have I Spit on Your Grave 2 vying for your attention. This shitpile of a movie is everything that’s wrong with most horror films today. Replacing subtly and scares with vicious and nasty, the film tries to justify the brutal hour long rape and abuse of its protagonist by letting her have the final third of the film to exact her revenge. No movie has ever made me as angry as this Fanta bottle full of piss.

Top 5 by @noonanhannah

– STOKER (2013)

I must confess to having mixed feelings about Park Chan-wook’s English language debut upon first viewing. But Stoker is one of those films whose utter dedication to atmosphere stays with you months after viewing until you begrudgingly admit that actually, that was rather brilliant. Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman and Matthew Goode all put in stellar performances and Chung Chung-hoon’s cinematography is positively lush. But the real star of Stoker is Wentworth Miller’s haunting script, a brilliant love letter to the twisted family shenanigans of Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt.

THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES (2013)

Flawed? Yes. Overlong? Absolutely. But Derek Cianfrance’s follow up to Blue Valentine is a brooding character piece that asks for a gamut of emotional responses from its audience, most of which it successfully achieves. Plus, it threatened to melt the internet by giving us a scene where Ryan Gosling dances with a dog to Bruce Springsteen, and if that’s not what you want out of a film, then we could never be friends.

THE WAY WAY BACK (2013)

Nat Faxon and Jim Rash’s ode to coming-of-age films is beautifully judged, wonderfully directed and supremely enjoyable. Allison Janney puts in a brilliant performance as a fabulously awful drunk, and Sam Rockwell becomes the best friend any kid could want. There’s really not much else to say about the Descendants pair’s summer outing that I didn’t cover in my original review.

FROZEN (2013)

Disney’s wintery delight is a strong step forward for the house of mouse, and a beautifully woven tale of sisterly love, sassy reindeers and singing snowmen. But more to the point, the songs are fabulous and if you’re not singing ‘Let It Go’ by the end then you have a heart of ice.

STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS (2013)

The second of JJ Abrams’ Star Trek outings is a two-hour exercise in fan wankery at its absolute finest and, forgive me, I fell for it hook, line and sinker. Benedict Cumberbatch e-nun-ci-aaaates his way into the British bad guy canon of Hollywood, and anyone who says it isn’t entertaining watching just how far those nostrils flare is frankly a liar. Star Trek Into Darkness is a film that fiercely says no to logic, and yes to “LOOK! SHINY THINGS!” so excuse me for being a magpie.

Worst film

– OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL (2013)

Most likely not the ACTUAL worst film of the year (I never got round to that Shyamalan affair with Will Smith and his young clone) but certainly the most souless and tedious film I spent money on. James Franco is sleepy and disengaged in this needless and saccharine A list pantomime. There’s a terrible CGI monkey sidekick, a creepy porcelain girl I swear I met in a nightmare in my youth, and the dullest of Bruce Campbell cameos. I love The Wizard of Oz, I love Sam Raimi, but this was such a disappointment.

So there you have it. Did you think any of us were blisteringly right? Howling wrong? Let us know.

The Fan (1997)

Here’s three film ideas:

Gil (Robert De Niro) is a quick-to-anger knife salesman. Gil’s main passion is baseball, in particular the San Francisco Giants. A passion that seemingly overrides everything else. Fresh from divorce, he is a work shy employee and a terrible father to his son, who never fails to idolize him. When Gil loses his job, he begins to retreat into his love for the great American pastime. There’s potentially a film there.

Bobby Rayburn (Wesley Snipes) is the new star signing to the San Francisco Giants. His signing is somewhat controversial due to the large amount of money that’s been pushed his way. His ego’s as big as his talent, and it begins to show once he starts throwing his weight around. When an injury during his first game causes his performance to decline, Bobby is forced to take stock of where he is in life. There’s potentially a film there.

Or there’s the third option – Combine the two films together, then have Gil turn into a by-the-numbers, stock footage loony who becomes obsessed with Bobby. Then, halfway through the film you can crank up the Nine Inch Nails soundtrack, dispense with all attempts at subtlety and ride this overcooked turkey to the end.

Guess which film The Fan decided to be?

Overly long and trite, The Fan deserves for very little praise for the tired clichés it wheels out every few scenes. A suspension of disbelief usually goes hand in hand with these ‘stalker’ movies, but The Fan’s suspension of disbelief is the equivalent thinking that your bottom is blue and talks like Susan Boyle.

Whilst it is strangely watchable, it’s easy to see why The Fan never really took off in the 90s.

Gravity (2013)

 

Mark Kermode has long championed Inception – Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi film that coupled the fantastical world of dreams with the usually dry subjects of corporate takeovers, daddy issues and suicide – as an example of intelligent filmmaking. In his 2010 review, The Quiff surmised it was ‘a film that imagines that the multiplex masses aren’t so dumb after all!’ So what’s happened in those three years since? Well, not much. Nolan made another Batman film, Ryan Reynolds proved the Green Lantern’s powers could produce anything except a decent script and the Twilight and Fast and Furious franchises have dominated the market. It’s hardly been the fall of the Bastille.

Thank heavens then for Gravity; Alfonso Cuaron’s first directorial feature since 2006’s Children of Men. Sandra Bullock and George Clooney are astronauts performing a routine mission to repair the Hubble Space Probe. Bullock is the fledgling astronaut on her first mission, with only six months training under her belt (‘Does that include holidays?’ Quips one of her teammates). Clooney is the rakish veteran now on his final expedition and looking forward (maybe?) to retiring.

When the debris from a defunct satellite catastrophically interrupts them in the course of their duties, they, along with the other members of their crew, find themselves cut off from communications with Mission Control. And that’s as much as we’re going to say. The trailers for Gravity have been somewhat thrifty in plot telling and we’d like to perform the courtesy of doing the same. Gravity is a film best gone into knowing as little possible.

What we can say is that Gravity is definitely one of the best films to crash into 2013. Cuaron’s direction is sublime and he deftly constructs a claustrophobic atmosphere in the large, unfeeling void that is space. Often switching to the point of view of his main players, Cuaron doesn’t just want you to emphasise with the panic and fear on display, he wants you slap bang in the middle, gasping for breath and questioning the futility of your existence. This is one of the few times we can think of where we actively recommend seeing a film in 3D over 2D. Yes, he’s that good. But it’s not just Cuaron’s party. Emmanuel Lubezki is, as always, at his side providing sumptuous cinematography that would make the most heartless of stones emote.

On the acting stakes, this is Bullock’s time to shine. As medical engineer Ryan Stone, Bullocks provides us with a performance that makes you wonder why she ever bothers with films like The Proposal. Fragile, yet determined, she is the backbone of this film; displaying strength in the face of adversity and providing a genuinely strong female character, where strength isn’t represented by wearing tight PVC and karate kicking people in the kick. And if a scene involving a nursery rhyme doesn’t move, then we pity you. Clooney, meanwhile, shows once again that he can bring his charming bastard routine to pretty much any situation and make it work. Here, as Matt Kowalski, his quick wit and bravado is almost a mask to hide the uncertainty of his survival, but it’s also there to act as a rock for Stone to hold on to.

Numerous themes run throughout and, like Nolan’s work, will be picked apart  for years to come. People will point at the signposted theme of rebirth – and honestly, these moments are the weakest parts due to their being just too on the nose – but for us this is a tale of acceptance and moving on. Everyone has been left with an opportunity to sink or swim, and it’s their decisions on which way to go that truly define them.

Put simply, Gravity is a wonderful balance between storytelling and filmmaking. Now, please. Please, please, please can we have more of these?

Thanks.